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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sex segregation during funeral

Court rules in favor of woman who claimed rabbi sex-segregated her father's funeral, barred her from saying goodbye

A Beersheba small claims court has ordered Chevra Kadisha to compensate a woman with NIS 31,900 (roughly $8,300) for the distress the group had caused her by barring her from walking alongside her father's coffin during his funeral.

According to the plaintiff, the rabbi who led the burial ritual in January 2011 ordered the women to walk behind the men in the funeral procession. She and her five sisters were also forced to sit behind the men during the ceremony.

Moreover, the rabbi refused to allow the plaintiff to deliver the eulogy she had written on behalf of her family. The rabbi offered to read out her words of farewell, but she refused due to the personal nature of the text.

Chevra Kadisha, an organization whose volunteers ensure that the bodies of Jews are buried in accordance with Jewish tradition, argued that it does not discriminate against men and women, and that it is always sensitive to the families' wishes. The group's representatives argued that the disagreement that occurred over the eulogy at the funeral was resolved. The representatives stressed that the rabbi, who has since passed away, was a volunteer.

The organization also accused the complainant of "riding the media wave" by claiming that women were excluded, while slandering Chevra Kadisha.

Deep regret

After hearing the woman and her brothers' testimonies, a representative of the group offered his deep regret over the rabbi's conduct. He said that the organization is assuming responsibility for the incident and added that the rabbis have been instructed to respect the mourners' wishes and not to discriminate.

But the judge in the case, Amit Cohen, ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and ordered Chevra Kadisha to pay the women the entire sum for which she had sued, plus NIS 1,000 ($260) for expenses.

"The plaintiff and her brothers' testimonies were touching," the judge wrote. "The intensity of their emotions was clear, as was the deep sorrow that was caused to the plaintiff due to the manner in which the funeral was conducted."

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